Teachers union to sue board over larger class sizes

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Following last week’s official notice from the Board of Education that it plans to increase class sizes to 35, the Chicago Teachers Union is fighting back: The union plans to file a lawsuit Tuesday claiming that the board’s planned move would violate health and safety laws.

Following last week’s official notice from the Board of Education that
it plans to increase class sizes to 35, the Chicago Teachers Union is
fighting back: The union plans to file a lawsuit Tuesday claiming that
the board’s planned move would violate health and safety laws.

In Chicago, the teachers union has no bargaining rights over class
sizes, and the specter of up to 37 students in a class has hovered over
the union for weeks as the district wrestles with closing a $900
million budget gap. The prospect of larger classes—and the resulting
teacher layoffs—would be a big bargaining chip for the district if it
decides to ask teachers to forego scheduled 4 percent raises.

CTU President Marilyn Stewart said Monday that the union plans to file
the suit Tuesday in the Circuit Court of Cook County, charging that 35
students per class violates the city’s Municipal Code. The code states
that school classrooms must allot at least 20 square feet of space per
person, and Stewart wants CPS to post capacity numbers in classrooms
similar to those that are posted in other places, such as restaurants
and building elevators.

Elementary and middle schools currently have an average of 28 students
per class, while high schools currently have an average of 32 students
per class. The increase would be an increase of about 20 percent and 10
percent, respectively.

“We want CPS to prove that what they’re doing is not a violation of the law,” Stewart said.

Although the union cannot bargain over class sizes, the current
contract provides for monitoring. The board and the union will discuss
the impact of any increase, and the move is not yet official, says
Jennifer Poltrock, CTU attorney.

The board must provide written notice to the union 20 days in advance
if it wants to change anything in the contract, including asking
teachers to forego raises. Last Friday was the board’s written notice
on increasing class sizes. The board has until June 15 to notify the
union if it does not have the money for raises.

Karen Lewis of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, Stewart’s
opponent in this coming Friday’s union election, says the board has not
been forthcoming about the budget and “still has not shown us why this
has to be the way it is.”

Stewart also insisted that the union is concerned about the impact of
larger class sizes on students, calling them “an educational disaster.”
She cited research from a long-term study of nearly 12,000 students,
which found that those who had smaller classes reaped benefits
throughout their schooling.

Stewart announced the lawsuit just four days before the union election, but said the suit “has nothing to do with my election.”

Lewis supports the lawsuit, but thinks it’s a ploy to get the attention
of teachers before they vote. “I think she really needs to be seen as
if she’s doing something,” Lewis said.